Health Benefits Of Zumbani And All You Need To Know About The Plant!

Zumbani commonly known as Fever tea or lemon bush has become very popular with Africans in general and Zimbabweans in particular, who are taking all possible steps to protect themselves against Covid-19. 

Many people believe that Zumbani has health benefits and are taking Zumbani tea both to protect themselves and to manage the symptoms of the respiratory disease. Some are even using the plant for steaming.

But what exactly is Zumbani and what health benefits does it have.

Description/Properties of Zumbani:

Zumbani/Umsuzwane botanically known as Lippia Javanica is an erect woody perennial herb or shrub of up to 4.5 m tall. The plant has strong aromatic leaves which give off a lemon-like fragrance when crushed. For the purposes of this article, we shall not delve into a technical complex description of the ‘wonder plant’ which is being used by Zimbabweans as a covid-19 treatment and preventative measure.

The plant consists of brownish stems which are usually erect and, in some instances, spreading with short stiff tubercle-based whitish hairs. The leaf structure of the Zumbani/Umsuzwane/Lippia Javanica plant is complex however as mentioned in the introduction of this section the leaves give off a lemon-like fragrance when crashed.
In terms of flowers, Zumbani/Umsuzwane/Lippia Javanica occur in conical or oblong spikes, purple or dull-reddish in fruit and turn dark brownish when they dry. The plants are white in colour. The plant flowers all year.

Zumbani/Umsuzwane/Lippia Javanica until recently was not cultivated but occurs naturally in central, eastern, and southern Africa despite being originally described as Verbena Javanica by the Dutch botanist Nicolaas Laurens Burman (1734-1793) who mistakenly it was collected in Java The plant has also been recorded in the tropical Indian subcontinent. In sub-Saharan Africa, Zumbani is found in Angola, Botswana, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zanzibar, and Zimbabwe.

Given the different countries, it is found, Lippia Javanica is highly adaptable to a wide range of climatic and environmental conditions. It has been recorded in low to high altitude (0–2350 m above sea level) woodlands and wooded grasslands, scrub bushland, and grassy rocky kopjes, in riverine vegetation, and on margins of dambos and swampy ground, sometimes on termite mounds, in montane grasslands, and on evergreen forest margins, also in the disturbed ground beside roads, forest clearings, plantations, and cultivated land and becoming a weed in derived rangelands.

A study found out that Zumbani/Umsuzwane/Lippia Javanica had higher total phenolic content than the popular Rooibos. Natural phenolic compounds found in herbs play an important role as antioxidants in exhibiting the medicinal properties such as an antibiotic, anti-inflammation, anticancer and anti-allergic responses. As the study stated:

Higher phenolic content is associated with higher antioxidant activity, which is a superior health benefiting property. Numerous physiological and biochemical processes in the human body may produce oxygen-centred free radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS). When free radicals and ROS are produced in excess during metabolism, they can cause oxidative stress which may consequently lead to cell and tissue damage. 

Such a condition may deteriorate to various pathological conditions including cardiovascular dysfunction, atherosclerosis, inflammation, carcinogenesis, neurodegenerative disorders, aging and chronic degenerative disease. Phenolic compounds protect the body cells and tissues from damage caused by free radicals and reactive oxygen species by reducing radicals and reactive oxygen species into stable derivative molecules.

Uses of Zumbani:


In Kenya, Zumbani leaves and twigs are used as food additives. Lippia Javanica is eaten as a leafy vegetable in India. The plant is a popular herbal tea, particularly in Southern Africa. In countries such as Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, Umsuzwane herbal tea is prepared by steeping fresh or dried leaves, stems, or twigs in boiling water and letting them stand for two to five minutes to release flavour. Some add milk and sugar to taste, however, in most instances, the herbal tea is consumed as is. 

For a stronger brew, individuals boil fresh or dried leaves, stems, or twigs for more than five minutes. 

The herbal tea prepared from Lippia Javanica leaves, stems, or twigs has a lemon or vanilla aroma and is often used as a common tea substitute. In some cases, a few leaves, stems, or twigs are added to ‘normal’ tea as an additive to provide a lemon or vanilla aroma.


Although the tea can be consumed for recreation and enjoyment, it can be used for medicinal purposes. The plant contains several terpenes and cannabinoids of medicinal benefit.

Zumbani which is ironically known as the Fever tea in English can be used in calming fever in malaria, influenza and measles cases. Apart from treating fevers, Lippia Javanica herbal tea can be consumed for a limited number of days to treat respiratory conditions like asthma in Zimbabwe and bronchitis in South Africa. Studies have found that Umsuzwane herbal tea is used to treat chest pains in Zimbabwe and South Africa, colds in Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, cough in South Africa and Zimbabwe. 

The article will discuss in detail the medicinal uses of Zumbani/Lippia Javanica/Umsuzwane.

Respiratory Problems

Zumbani’s different parts have been used for the treatment of problems such as asthma, coughs, colds, influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and bronchitis. Such uses have been recorded in Bangladesh, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In Bangladesh, a mixture of Zumbani leaves mixed with 3-4 pieces of garlic cloves is taken orally 2-3 times daily as a remedy for chest pains. The remedy for chest pains is slightly different in Ethiopia, where Lippia Javanica leaves are chewed with butter. 

The same remedy is taken in Ethiopia when one has a cough. A strong brew of Lippia Javanica leaves is taken orally in India as a remedy for respiratory disorders.
The Kenyans treat their coughs and colds a little bit differently. The leaves are sniffed or half glass of hot leaf infusion is taken orally three times a day as a remedy for colds and cough. In South Africa, individuals can add leaves to a cup of boiling water to produce a brew which is taken orally as a remedy for coughs, colds, and bronchial problems or the infusion is applied to the skin or mixed with petroleum jelly to make an ointment.

The leaves are not the only part of the Lippia Javanica plant that is used in South Africa as a remedy for coughs and colds. The twigs can be boiled and the brew taken orally for asthma, colds, and cough. In some cases, the leaves are used in washes and poultices for chest pains, and leaves are boiled for 5 minutes and one cup of the extract is taken orally thrice a day for chest pains and tuberculosis.

The leaves can be boiled in two litres of water and a patient is steamed once or twice a day to treat coughs, chest pain, headaches, fever, chills, a sore throat, or a blocked nose. This decoction can also be taken orally by drinking half a cup daily. Alternatively, a handful of L. Javanica roots or leaves are mixed with a handful leaves from a variety of herbs such as Muvengahonye/Maggot and guava to treat a variety of health problems such as blocked nose, chest pain, cough, earache, fatigue, fever, influenza, headache, runny nose, sleepless nights, sore throat, tiredness, and tonsillitis.

Leaf and stem infusion of Lippia Javanica is taken orally together with African wormwood by the Zulu people in South Africa as a remedy for bronchial ailments, colds, and cough. “Imbiza,” a popular herbal brew prepared from Lippia Javanica and the Knysna lily, is used by the Zulu people in South Africa as a herbal tonic and an immune booster and also for the treatment of cancer, chest pains, colds, diabetes, HIV or AIDS symptoms, skin infections, and tuberculosis. 

The leaves and roots can also be set on fire and the smoke inhaled as a remedy for asthma, chest pains, colds, and chronic coughs in Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Health professionals have warned against the boiling of various parts of the Lippia Javanica plant for longer periods of time and skipping meals resorting to herbal remedies. According to the doctors, extended boiling will result in loss of the essential phytochemicals and nutrients that treat the illnesses listed above. The doctors encourage individuals to take Lippia Javanica as tea or leaves ground into a powder and incorporate them in various food recipes.

The doctors also discourage substituting food with herbal remedies because one still needs a variety of nutrients that they can only get from eating diverse foods including fruits, vegetables, pulses/legumes, animal source foods and cereals.

Gastrointestinal Diseases:

Varius parts of the Lippia Javanica plant are used to treat gastrointestinal diseases in various parts of Africa. Leaf and root brews are used as remedies for digestive diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, and dysentery. In Mozambique, individual suffering for a type of diarrhoea commonly known as “Chinhamucaca”, can be expected to feel instant relief after drinking a root decoction. This type of diarrhoea is characterized by milky diarrhoea accompanied by vomiting in children. The Venda people in South Africa use leaf infusions as prophylactic against diarrhoea whilst patients diagnosed as having intestinal worms take a leaf infusion as vermifuges.

Insect Repellent:

Zumbani can make an excellent insect repellent is used not only in Africa but in India as well. Fresh or air-dried leaves are used to wash or steam body parts infested with lice in South Africa. In India, the whole plant is used to repel lice in poultry. The plant can be burnt and the smoke is used as a mosquito repellent in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In the two previously mentioned countries, the herb is also used to get rid of ticks and other ectoparasites; for example, ticks are sprayed with crushed leaves mixed with water or twigs are used as bedding in fowl runs. 

The Venda people in South Africa use leaf infusions of L. Javanica as prophylactic against malaria. The rural community in Giyani, Limpopo Province, South Africa have notched things a step further by cultivating Lippia Javanica on a commercial scale for the production of a mosquito-repellent candle.


The herb works at burials. After people have buried their loved one, they wash their hands in water mixed with the Umsuzwane leaves to keep away evil spirits and to remove bad luck. The practice is done in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, they can be rubbed on the chest and back or put beneath for a goodnight’s sleep. They are believed to drive away evil spirits that cause nightmares. The plant has been used to protect one from lightning, and to protect the home. 

The inhabitants of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa believe that a person can repel snakes by placing a small stem with leaves on his or her head. In Malawi, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, people showing sign of mental disorder, madness, or hysterical outbursts are required to wash their bodies with leaf infusions.

Food Preservation:

Zumbani is a wonder herb and is used by the Xhosa people in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa in the preservation of food. The Xhosa use the leaves for the disinfection of meat that has been infected with anthrax. In Kenya, the stem is used to preserve milk by applying it to the gourd before milk fermentation. In KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, if the meat started to smell it will be boiled with Lippia Javanica leaves to take away the smell.


In South Africa, the whole plant is placed on a young man’s bed after the circumcision ceremony, to prevent odours and freshen surrounding air. In KwaZulu, Natal leaves are sprinkled in toilets to prevent odours. The leaves are immersed in water and the water is sprinkled in houses in the Limpopo province, South Africa, and Kenya for a pleasant aromatic smell.


In Zimbabwe, the Zumbani plant has been widely championed as a Covid-19 treatment although no confirmed medical assurance has been issued by government medical experts. Alleged Covid-19 patients are said to have been healed after inhaling the plant’s steam covered with a blanket a process known as Kunatira in Shona. The World Health Organisation has warned individuals that steam inhalation therapy carries a risk of burn injury. 
The usual technique of covering the head with a towel over a pan filled with hot water is dangerous due to the steam, the hot liquid, or even potential contact with the container. 

Although studies have shown that steam therapy can help thin mucus as a supplemental course of action to give some relief when grappling a cold or flu but overall, scientific studies showing evidence of its usefulness are lacking.

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